WASHINGTON — Reform of the Pentagon's weapons buying habits will lead Rep. Mac Thornberry's agenda as head of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) say committee aides, a long-term plan the Texas Republican will formally outline on Monday at a Washington think tank.
Unlike a seemingly endless history of similar initiatives that have fizzled out or gone down in flames however, Thornberry appears to be taking a slower, long-term approach to the problem. And he's starting at the beginning, with a series of proposed changes to how program managers actually operate on a day-to-day basis.
"Acquisition reform will be one of his top priorities every year as chairman" said one House Armed Services aide who requested anonymity.
His kickoff effort which he hopes will be included in the fiscal year 2016 defense bill focuses on things like giving Pentagon program managers more control over what kinds of contracts are awarded, instituting mandatory training on how to include commercial items in their programs, and changing the promotion and rotation schedule for procurement officers to make their positions more permanent.
The system doesn't need a total reinvention, one House aide said, but reform is necessary.
"It's not about doing away with things. Its more about a more clear line of authority … everyone needs to be held accountable."
While Thornberry is starting here, the plan is for the HASC to build on its reform agenda each year, adding to the previous year's changes in an incremental fashion Aides said the process may be slow, and may not be sexy, but is critically important given the Pentagon's own push to reform its acquisition process, which is being led by chief weapons buyer Frank Kendall and deputy secretary of defense Bob Work.
Newly installed secretary of defense Ash Carter has also made acquisition reform a key component of his efforts in previous tours at the Pentagon,
"There's no silver bullets, it's a constant process of fixing things" one aide told reporters on March 20. But before anything else happens, the amount of red tape that program managers have to contend with has to be reduced.
One way to do that is to cut down the number of reports that a PM has to submit to the services and to Congress each year. While doing that however, the question of "how do you maintain accountability but empower the PMs" the aide said. House aides insisted that they have worked closely with the Pentagon over the past year to put together this first round of proposed reforms, and out of seven recommendations that Kendall sent to the staff, they have incorporated six.
The House committee has also asked the Pentagon's Defense Business Board to look at how to get non-traditional companies to play in the defense sector, one aide said, which is in line with the Pentagon's own Better Buying Power 3.0 initiative, which seeks to revamp the development and prototyping of new technologies, while also reaching out to small tech firms and Silicon Valley to drum up interest in working with the Pentagon on leap-ahead technologies.